Video footage has been released of the plasma produced by the Wendelstein 7-X nuclear fusion reactor, one of several that has successfully trapped a plasma in the past few years.
The reactor in Greifswald, Germany, was switched on two years ago, suspending a helium plasma for the first time. Earlier this year, it then also managed to suspend a hydrogen plasma. It is a collaboration between the Max-Planck Institute for Plasma Physics and the Wigner Research Centre for Physics, both in Germany.
This footage is a compilation of images taken from inside the reactor, showing how the plasma is trapped inside. You can see the swirls and movement of the plasma, which was sustained for a few milliseconds, a small but still significant amount of time.
The Wendelstein 7-X, or W7-X, is a type of reactor known as a stellarator. This is shaped like a twisted donut, which keeps the plasma confined by twisting magnetic fields around it.
In order to kickstart nuclear fusion and produce a plasma, extremely high temperatures of about 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) are required. It’s taken 19 years to build the W7-X, at a cost of $1.1 billion.
But the payoff could be enormous. A working reactor could theoretically produce more energy than is put in, with the added benefit of generating essentially zero waste products.
The W-7X isn’t the only experimental nuclear fusion reactor in development. In December 2016, scientists at the National Fusion Research Institute (NFRI) in South Korea also managed to sustain a hydrogen plasma, this time for 70 seconds. Their reactor is a tokamak, shaped like a regular donut, and uses a large current to twist the plasma.
China and the US are also working on their own tokamak nuclear fusion reactor called the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), which produced a plasma for 102 seconds in February 2016.
And just yesterday, an international project called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France reached the halfway point in its construction, with scientists hoping to switch it on in 2025.
It’s certainly an exciting time for nuclear fusion, with some impressive progress being made in the past year. This video footage serves as a reminder that apart from being potentially beneficial, fusion reactors just look frickin’ cool too. See you in the future.